The other day I posted a status on Facebook that S had gone to bed but cried when I got my dinner, so I had a cold dinner again. It seemed to attract several comments (not on the status itself so much, but to me personally via texts, emails and in person) telling me I was doing the wrong thing by going to her when she cried. This post is my response to those statements.

Babies cry in order to get their carer to help meet their needs. Babies, certainly those under a year of age, do not know how to manipulate, and cannot be spoilt. They can’t say, So sorry; I’m feeling a bit crap. I’ve woken up suddenly and it’s dark and I’m alone and I don’t like it. Could you just give me a quick hug and help me get back to sleep? – They cry instead; it’s their only way of letting us know they need us.

A baby’s cry is supposed to be loud, and to grate on your nerves and make you fele emotional – so that you will want to make it stop, by doing whatever it is the baby is crying for, not by closing the door and turning the TV up. Evolution did not make babies cry in this way so as to make you ignore it until it stops. Surely if a baby’s cry was meant to be ignored, it would be easier to do so?

In the 1970s Mary Ainsworth and Sylvia Bell conducted a study into how mothers responded to their babies’ crying and how this affected the child’s behaviour. They found that the more quickly a mother responded to her crying infant, even if she wasn’t able to stop the child from crying very quickly, the less the child cried later. 

They also found that “cloe maternal contact” was the most effective way of stopping a child from crying. The more responsive I am to S’s crying, the less she will cry in future. For me this is evidenced in the fact that actually, she cries very rarely.

There have been numerous studies into attachment theory (different from attachment parenting, which is an approach to parenting; attachment theory is the study of relationships between humans), and the overwhelming finding is that the more responsive a parent is during the first year of a child’s life, the more securely attached the child will be, and therefore the better the relationship between parent and child going forward.

Many will say that the “cry it out” technique works – after a few torturous hours of screaming the baby “learns” and no longer cries. But what has the baby learned? Most probably, the baby has learned that crying does not work, and nobody will come to help them. 

If you view a baby as a creature trying to manipulate and trick you, then you would see this as a success. But it has serious implications. This is a psychological term called learned helplessness.

Acting as if a child is trying to manipulate us when it’s crying removes the child’s control over their situation and risks their losing interest in interacting with the world. Studies by Dr Kevin Nugent of Boston Children’s Hospital have found that babies whose cries are routinely ignored show symptoms of depression. There is also evidence that leaving a baby to cry can impede their development. I don’t know about you, but if I’m stressed out, I’m not really able to concentrate on learning new things.

This Guardian article discusses how leaving a baby to cry can result in developmental damage. And here is another post about how excessive crying is harmful to infants.

I am not telling you that what you are doing/have done for your child/children is wrong. What you do is your own business. But stop telling me to leave my child to cry, because you are wasting your time. I know that when I am crying and need some support, I don’t like to be ignored. I know that if I feel shitty, I can ask a friend for help.

My baby can’t speak yet; her only way of communicating her needs is by crying. And yes, sometimes it is tiring and draining, and I’d rather be sitting downstairs eating a hot meal than spending my evening running up and down the stairs to console a crying baby – but that doesn’t mean I’m going to ignore her for the sake of a hot meal. What I do now affects what will happen tomorrow, and I’m happy to have a few cold meals if it means my child will be happy, both now and in the future.

Short version of this post: don’t tell me I’m doing the wrong thing and expect me not to answer!


Vicky is a mother, a blogger, a podcaster and a social media trainer. She writes about life as a single mother, parenting and lifestyle type things.


elita carroll · 27/06/2013 at 22:03

Complately agree with you.

Bea · 27/06/2013 at 22:18

I cant believe that people reacted like that to you so personally! How rude and good on you for doing it your way. I think each child is an individual however and so is each parent. I will always go to M if she wakes in the night for the exact same reasons you say- but she is capable of sleeping through and it can just be habit that they wake up so will leave her sometimes unless she is teething

    Vicky Charles · 28/06/2013 at 18:18

    Exactly. People tell me all the time that I will spoil her, she&#39;ll never sleep through if I keep going to her, blah blah. She started sleeping in her cot and through the night a month or so ago, without me having to force either issue.<br />as far as I&#39;m concerned, it&#39;s a case of &quot;do what you want with your own child, but don&#39;t you dare tell me what to do with mine!&quot;

    mamacrow · 13/11/2013 at 22:44

    we have seven children, and have learnt we were quite right to stick to our guns in the face of &#39;oh they&#39;ll never *insert anything here* unless you *insert time consuming unpleasant method here*&#39; – slinging and feeding on demand and cosleeping have resulted in a happy family that gets plenty of sleep most nights, so it has worked for us :D

Victoriaaa · 28/06/2013 at 16:17

I personally don&#39;t see what leaving them to cry achieves other than tears and heartache..if you can stop and sooth them why let them get worked up? But each to their own.

    Vicky Charles · 28/06/2013 at 18:14

    Each to their own indeed. S went through a stage where she couldn&#39;t sleep for more than an hour or so at a time. I&#39;d get her settled, come downstairs and make dinner, and she&#39;d invariably wake up again. So many people told me to just leave her to cry, I got really pissed off with it!

Jennifer Cartwright · 13/09/2013 at 12:53

I totally agree,I have always gone to all of my children straight away when they cried and I still do with my 4 month old baby boy,they cry because they need you not for no reason.

Shan Angell · 12/11/2013 at 21:46

Totally agree i never left any of mine to cry. It&#39;s different when they get to 2 or 3 &amp; have tantrums that you do have to try &amp; ignore but even then i think a Mother knows when their child is really in distress or just wanting attention.

Shan Angell · 12/11/2013 at 21:49

I totally agree with you i never left any of mine to cry. It&#39;s different when they get to 2 or 3 &amp; have tantrums then you have to learn to ignore them. But even then i think a Mother knows the difference between their child being in distress &amp; making a noise.

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